Jazz singer and washboard player
Beryl Audrey Bryden was born on 11 May 1920 in Norwich, the only child of Amos and Elsie Bryden. Her love of jazz music began in her teenage years and she joined the local branch of the National Rhythm Club movement at the age of seventeen and became the Norwich club’s secretary by 1941. On a visit to London she heard black musicians playing at the Jigs Club in Soho, which was to have a profound influence on the course of her life.
In 1942 Beryl moved to Cambridge, where she ran the city’s Rhythm Club and began singing Billie Holiday’s songs. At the end of the war she moved to London determined to become part of the jazz world. She sang semi-professionally and met and worked with Humphrey Lyttleton, Clinton Maxwell, George Webb, Cy Laurie and John Haim’s Jelly Roll Kings, and made her recording début in 1948 with the trumpeter Freddy Randall. She sang early songs by Bessie Smith and accompanied herself on a metal washboard.
In May 1949 Bryden formed Beryl’s Back-Room Boys, with whom she broadcast before joining the trumpeter Mike Daniels as commpère and singer at his Delta Jazz Club in Soho. It was there, in 1952, that she met the French clarinettist Maxime Saury; he engaged her to sing with his band at the Vieux Colombier in Paris, which was her first professional engagement. It was in Paris that she befriended notable American expatriates, among them the trumpeter Bill Coleman, the singer Billie Holiday, and the pianist Mary Lou Williams, with whom she recorded.
As European re-creations of pre-war traditional jazz grew in popularity in the 1950s, Bryden sang and recorded with the trombonist Chris Barber and played the washboard with his guitarist Lonnie Donegan; their record of Rock Island Line (1956) sold 2 million copies and entered the British and United States hit parades. She continued to travel in Europe, where she worked with the Dutch Swing College Band and then, as the ‘trad boom’ became big business in Britain, was heard with the genre’s more sophisticated representatives such as the trumpeter Alex Welsh.
In the 1970s, she became the only British female jazz musician to be awarded the freedom of the City of New Orleans.
Beryl was a larger-than-life figure who dressed in zebra-striped gowns, wore sculptured blonde wigs, and played a star-spangled washboard. Though her repertoire was from the lighter side of jazz she earned respect for her sincerity and interest in authenticity. She travelled widely and practised her hobbies of photography and deep-sea diving, she lived for many years at 166 Gloucester Terrace, Paddington, London. Beryl died from cancer on 14 July 1998 at St Mary’s Hospital, Paddington, London.
Find out more: You can see a newspaper articles about Beryl in the Norfolk Heritage Centre and more about her music here
Eastern Evening News 25/10/1984 p.13
“Jazz girl Beryl is back in home city”
Short article about a brief visit to Norwich before beginning “the most intensive tour of her 30-year career” with the Pete Allen Jazz Band. Includes a photo.
EDP 21/2/1997 p.28/29
“The Lady sings the Blues”
Double page spread biographical article with modern and historic photos.
Evening News 13/5/1998
“Beryl’s back in town”
Short article including photos – one of Beryl with Black Anna
Evening News 15/7/1998
Obituary, includes several photos
Evening News 3/11/1998
“Skiffle stars’ tribute to Beryl”
Short article about a concert at the Royal Albert Hall celebrating British skiffle, in which a tribute to Beryl Bryden was planned. Includes a photo